Visual Stories for Nonprofits: Our Home, Our People
Tom Perry is the Team Leader of Pacific Communications for the World Bank. He is now based in Sydney.
Lead Image Caption: Rupeni and Losena watch their story in VR (Tom Perry-World Bank).
You submitted the Our Home, Our People project which you helped create for the World Bank to our submissions at NGO Storytelling, we were really intrigued by your use of virtual reality and compelling storytelling. How are you connected with the project?
I was the Lead Producer on the project, coordinating the production and communications components. It turned into a lot bigger job than any of us had anticipated…
Who came up with the Our Home, Our People video concept and why is it important to the World Bank's mission?
I’d previously led the production of a VR series for the World Bank on conflict in Asia-Pacific, so I had some experience with that medium. That project taught us many lessons: particularly the need for space and time to allow a story and the experience in VR to breath, and also on the need for a solid communications strategy with strong partnerships; to ensure any VR content gets seen widely and by the people you’re trying to influence.
The World Bank was working with the Fijian Government on a Climate Vulnerability Assessment for Fiji – essentially a deep-dive analysis of what and how climate change will actually impact Fiji, it’s people, economy and all aspects of life in the coming years. Combine that project with the fact that Fiji was taking on the Presidency of the COP23 climate change meetings – but these meetings were being held in wintry Bonn, not in Fiji – meant that there was a lot of interest and energy behind ensuring Fiji’s story was shared properly with the world at COP23. From the World Bank’s point of view it was important to demonstrate to Fiji and Fijians how committed we are to supporting their mission to convince world leaders and decision-makers to get behind strong action on climate change.
With that in mind, I pitched the idea around of a storytelling project with a big VR component to really bring the experience of climate change in Fiji to Bonn. Fortunately, people seemed to like the idea.
How were you involved in the story creation process? Did you advise the organization on what stories would work best for this specific media? Did you have the flexibility to seek out additional stories while on the ground?
The storytelling process worked in tandem with the climate change vulnerability analysis;. As the team were undertaking their analysis, we were doing interviews across Fiji to understand the various facets of climate change impact and adaptation in Fiji. As the team honed in on some of the findings, we would be digging in further with that knowledge in our interviews. And this was one of the key elements that made this project such a special one to work on: the idea was that the data and insights from the Climate Vulnerability Assessment would spur the head, and the storytelling component of the project would spur the heart. Combine those two elements and you can hopefully make an impact on the people with the power over big decisions. It was about ensuring the project respected both elements.
How did you go about hiring the media professional who created this piece?
I’d worked with most of our team – S1T2 (our VR production partner), Alana Holmberg (photographer, videographer and all-round storytelling champion) and Arieta Rika (Talanoa Stories) – on other projects before, and it’s always been a lot of fun; there’s a big sense of teamwork and everyone playing their part – we all believe in the impact good stories can have. But on this project it was critical that our Fijian team – Arieta, George Nacewa, Ken Cokanasiga – guided much of the process for us; as this is a distinctly Fijian story, and it’s not our story (as outsiders) to tell. Our job is just to provide the platform for those stories.
How much freedom did the photographer/filmmaker have when collecting this story? Were they given specific direction or did they have freedom to find their own stories?
I’m a big believer in providing a clear brief, and hiring people who you enjoy working with, and then trusting in the team to deliver that brief with their own voice, style and approach. Our VR shoot team – led by Tash Tan (Director), who I’ve worked with on five different VR projects now – were fantastic, as always. Likewise, Alana – who throws herself into projects more than anyone I’ve ever worked with; she lived and breathed this project; and that commitment is definitely reflected in the quality of the work, I like to think. And I really encouraged Arieta, who led much of the writing, to bring her own voice to the project, because she had a unique perspective: Arieta is part-Tongan, part-Fijian and currently lives in Australia, so has her feet in a few different worlds and cultures.
You mention working with your local team from Fiji. How do you think this collaboration affected the way the story was told? Are there any specific lessons learned or ways the story changed because of the leadership of the local team?
There’s something of a simplistic narrative that the international community, to a certain extent, continues to push in relation to climate change; which is one of ‘helplessness’. And our Fijian team really challenged that from the very beginning. Fijians are famous for their warm hearts and sense of community – and so our Fijian crew really pushed everyone involved to ensure that this sense of community love, community and family was presented as being integral to the way Fijians are responding to climate change. This is presented in the project through the idea of vei lomani; a concept deeply rooted in Fijian culture that loosely means how someone expresses their love for each other – for their community – through their actions.
How did you select the stories you ultimately used and how many stories did you leave out in the final edit?
It was, as I’m sure so many of your readers know from their own work, so tough. Firstly, we looked at which stories linked to the key elements of the Climate Vulnerability Assessment; and that certainly provided a valuable framework for narrowing down the stories and helping us hone in on certain topics in our interviews. Then we looked at balance: Fiji is an ethnically and socially diverse country, and so the project needed to reflect that diversity. And of course, we set out to confront and inspire decision-makers, particularly those at COP23 who’ve heard many climate change stories many times before. So we also tried to challenge stereotypes a little to jolt people’s expectations a little. In the end – the four key characters in the VR film represent different elements of Fiji’s climate change story: Asmita (education, empowering Fiji’s next generation), Catalina (rising seas, adaptation), Rai (disasters and the impact on livelihoods) and Rupeni (resilience and community).
Is there any quantifiable data that you can share about how the media impacted The World Bank. For example, did the media created raise a certain amount of money, have significant engagement on social media, or recruit a certain number of donors for your organization?
It’s been seen by around a million people online now (via YouTube, Jaunt, Littlstar, Veer), and by roughly 8,000 viewers in headset format at film festivals, events including COP23 and the European Development Days, and at film festival events in the Pacific, Australia and elsewhere. We reached plenty of the key people at COP23 including UN Climate Change Special Envoy Mike Bloomberg, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, Governor of Oregon, Kate Brown, at least 10 Ministers of Environment or Climate Change; and it was great to see their reactions.
There wasn’t a fundraising ask in the project, but this was about decision-makers, and the wider public, better understanding the need for climate adaptation (as opposed to mitigation): that the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Fiji and across the Pacific. So the message really is: investing in adaptation is now just as critical as mitigation.
Did you get any media coverage from your film? Can you share any links for media hits they got in English and other languages?
What has reception been like for this media?
It’s been fantastic. The highlight was taking the whole project back to Fiji earlier this year – to screen the film in Suva, and then back to the communities involved. It was about completing the storytelling circle, and we made a mini-doco about it.
What is the most important lesson that you learned as a communication director from this project?
The key challenge for us was trying to tell a climate change story with depth and heart that makes people sit up and pay attention, but without resorting to increasingly tired climate change clichés. To help achieve that we took plenty of time before shooting anything to properly understand the issues and impacts of climate change on the communities and people we met – to build a better understanding of the depth of a person’s story. Because climate change is one thing on paper, but it can be a very different experience for everyone. We allowed ourselves plenty of time for this on this project (to which I’m eternally grateful to those that backed us), and it meant we earned the trust of the communities we were working with. In the end I absolutely believe it helped build stronger, richer stories that Fijians and the Pacific felt were accurate but still made the international community take notice.
Is there any advice you'd like to share with other media makers and nonprofits?
The other lesson I’d probably pass on is that while I certainly think VR is a very powerful tool – it is definitely not a silver bullet for aid/development communications as it has been touted. Don’t get me wrong: it can be so effective in taking someone to another place and earning their attention. And there’s definitely still a curiosity factor when using it at events that attracts people. But all the cool new tech in the world doesn’t make up for a strong, well-crafted and nuanced story that’s been told with heart.
Be sure to check out all of the stories from the Our Home, Our People project and gather inspiration from their use of VR and storytelling! Many thanks to Tom and the team at The World Bank for their submission! If you to be featured in NGO Storytelling’s Visual Stories for Nonprofits series? Check out our guidelines on the submissions page.